College Football Playoff: 4 takeaways from the initial rankings of 2020

Ohio State ranks fourth; Cincinnati is seventh

When the first College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday night, committee chair Gary Barta would not get pinned down on how much it might matter if some teams have played significantly more games than others.

The University of Iowa Athletic Director did provide some context for 4-0 Ohio State ranking fourth, 8-0 Cincinnati coming in seventh and other results of the committee’s first vote of the year.

Here are four takeaways:

1. Ohio State’s schedule could be holding it back.

Barta said the committee is impressed with Ohio State, particularly on offense, but noted No. 12 Indiana is the only quality opponent the Buckeyes have beaten so far.

“Ohio State has an incredibly dynamic offense led by Justin Fields and so many weapons,” Barta said. “I think they’re scoring around 45 points a game, so it’s clear to the committee that Ohio State is a very good football team.

“But as you look at the rest of their schedule, the other three wins other than Indiana, and Indiana is certainly ranked high, 12th in the country, but the other three teams they’ve played have a combined record of 2-12. That certainly factored in. It was one factor in where Ohio State ended up, but Ohio State is a very good football team, and the committee certainly believes that.”

None of the teams left on the Buckeyes’ schedule — Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois — are ranked, but they could draw No. 8 Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship game to spruce up the resume one day before the final rankings are released Dec. 20.

2. Getting a 60-minute game from Indiana did not hurt Ohio State.

The Buckeyes ran out to a 35-7 lead on the Hoosiers last Saturday then had to hold on for a 42-35 victory.

That did not bother the committee.

“The fact that Ohio State got off to a quick start doesn’t surprise me because they have so much firepower on offense,” Barta said. “I also would tell you it didn’t shock me that Indiana came back because Indiana is an extremely talented team.

“You let the whole game play out, you watch every quarter. I’m sure Indiana feels bad they came up short, but I’m sure Ohio State (giving up 491 passing yards) will make a great coaching opportunity.”

3. The committee had Luke Fickell’s Bearcats seven spots ahead of BYU — another unbeaten team from outside the Power Five conferences — because strength of schedule.

“Right now BYU’s best win is over Boise State, and in that game I think they got down to their third string quarterback,” Barta said.

“BYU has played three games against .500 or better opponents, but when you move over to Cincinnati, they’re 4-0 against .500 teams and had quality wins as recently as this past weekend against Central Florida but also earlier against SMU, and Cincinnati is in the top 20 both in scoring offense and scoring defense. Those are some of the differences as we took a look at it.”

Much talk has already been devoted this season to whether or not UC can crash the playoff party, but it appears they would have to get a lot of help to do so as a pair of one-loss SEC teams (Texas A&M and Florida) are ahead of the Bearcats.

Alabama could knock Florida out in the SEC Championship Game, but Texas A&M could win out and end up with its only blemish being a loss to the Crimson Tide early in the season.

The Bearcats also would seem to need Clemson to lose again and/or to have some chaos in the last four weeks of Big Ten play — such as multiple losses by Ohio State and Northwestern.

4. Barta played up the point of the committing using the eye test this year.

The committee’s membership has changed over the years, and so has what it emphasizes.

Personal evaluations seem to play a larger role in composing the rankings now than they did in the beginning when resume was a bigger talking point.

“The process, as you know, by design is subjective,” Barta said. “There are 13 experts on the committee, some of whom are athletic directors like myself. We have former coaches. We have two former NFL players on the committee and one former journalist.

“I can tell you, and this is by experience and also just by the conversation, each of us is watching a lot of video, watching a lot of games. That’s always been important. It’s always been the case, but with the limited interconference play, it’s more important than ever before. We do have access to data and statistics and we certainly use that, but in the end each expert uses his or her expertise and makes their decisions and provides their input based on that expertise.”

As such, 7-0 Alabama is No. 1 for looking good in all three phases of the game and claiming quality wins over Texas A&M and No. 9 Georgia.

No. 2 Notre Dame (8-0) is not only undefeated but “improving every week” with a tough defense and quarterback Ian Book on the rise according to Barta while No. 3 Clemson (7-1) was dominating opponents before losing quarterback Trevor Lawrence for two games after he tested positive for COVID-19.

Lawrence missed the Tigers’ overtime loss at Notre Dame, as did multiple defensive players, something the committee took into account during the rankings process.

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